Michael Haddock grew up in north-central Kansas in the small town of Beloit, and he gravitated toward the Kansas landscape as a young boy farming with his father.
"As we checked the cattle in our pastures, he would describe how Native Americans and pioneers used various plants we encountered. I still have a very strong memory of the first time he dug up echinacea angustifolia and had me chew on a piece of the root. It numbed my mouth as if I had been at the dentist," says Haddock, agricultural librarian and chairman of the sciences department at Kansas State University.
As a boy, Haddock says he collected and pressed plants and submitted photographs for 4-H projects. He also always enjoyed writing. When he was older and an exchange student in Austria, he won a photo contest that reawakened his strong fascination with photography.
"My early interest in plants laid somewhat dormant until 1996, when I decided to create a Web site on Kansas wildflowers and grasses (www.lib.ksu.edu/wildflower)," Haddock says. "The Web site led to the book, in which all my interests came together."
The book, "Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses: A Field Guide," has been flying off the shelves at the Lawrence Public Library, which is why Deb Yager, fellow Beloit native and president of the Countryside Garden Club, invited Haddock to speak about the topic. She speaks highly of his book.
"It's one thing to visit the garden centers and know exactly what plant you are looking at by the label, (but) quite another to be driving in Kansas and try to figure out what wildflowers are blooming by the roadside," Yager says. "Mike's book, with the amazing photographs, is a wonderful field guide to identify our native (and some non-native) plants. I like the way the wildflowers are organized by color so it narrows down your search before you even begin and tells you when that specific plant would be in bloom."
The best way to see Kansas wildflowers is by getting off the beaten path, beyond the highways and deep into the trenches, Haddock says.
"You have to get out of the car and walk through the prairies and woodlands. It is hard to see the wildflowers and grasses going down the road at 65 miles an hour," he says.
Places Haddock recommends for viewing and photographing wildflowers and grasses:
¢ The Konza Prairie Biological Station, just outside of Manhattan, which has a great diversity of species and excellent public trails.
¢ The Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Chase County;
¢ Lake Wilson in Russell County;
¢ Lake Scott State Park in Scott County;
¢ Monument Rocks in Gove County;
¢ The Gypsum Hills area in Barber County;
¢ Lake Kanopolis in Ellsworth County;
¢ And Elk City Lake in Montgomery County.
Haddock will be the first to tell you he's not an expert on the plants in your yard. In fact, he says, he's not a proficient gardener at all. But he does know what Mother Nature has sprinkled across the state's prairies, and there are a few species to which he is particularly attracted.
"I do feel that Evening Star (Mentzelia decapetala) is particularly beautiful if one is lucky enough to encounter it fully open, and Leavenworth eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii) is one of our more curious plants," he says.
Other favorites include:
¢ Indian blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella)
¢ Pincushion cactus (Escobaria vivipara)
¢ Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
¢ Big bluestem grass (Andropogon gerardii)
¢ Little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium)
¢ Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
¢ Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum)
¢ Eastern gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides)
If you're unfamiliar with these plants but want to know more, Haddock will speak at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the library, 707 Vt.
Michael Haddock's recommendations for wildflower books: ¢ "Wildflowers and Weeds of Kansas," by Janet E. Bare (University Press of Kansas, 1979) ¢ "Roadside Wildflowers of the Southern Great Plains," by Craig C. Freeman and Eileen K. Schofield (University Press of Kansas, 1991) ¢ "Weeds of Nebraska and the Great Plains," by James Stubbendieck (Nebraska Department of Agriculture, 1994) ¢ "Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie," by Kelly Kindscher (University Press of Kansas, 1987) ¢ "Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie: An Ethnobotanical Guide," by Kelly Kindscher and William S. Whitney (University Press of Kansas, 1992) ¢ "Tallgrass Prairie Wildflowers," by Doug Ladd (Falcon Press Publishing, 1995)